by Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya

'Thought and consciousness’, says Engels, 'are products of the human brain.' The truth of this, as George Thomson comments, 'is so plain that it might almost seem to be obvious; yet philosophers have piled tome upon tome in order to deny, distort or obscure it.' Thus a large section of the contemporary philosophers, 'while claiming to be specialists in the study of thought, continue their disputations without regard to what scientists have learnt about the actual mechanism of the human brain.’ [1]

In Indian philosophy, as we have seen, the Nyaya‑Vaisesikas, with their serious preoccupation with the problems of epistemology, argued that the material body was indispensable for consciousness. Yet they could not outgrow the age‑old superstition  about the soul and its liberation. Knowledge, feeling and volition were conceived as states of an embodied soul and in liberation, the soul becoming disembodied, was devoid of consciousness. It was but one step further to establish epistemology on a secure scientific basis and assert that it was plain nonsense to talk of a soul apart from the body and that the conception of liberation was at best a deception. This step was actually taken by our Lokayatas or the Carvakas, i.e. the ancient materialists.

Here now [said Samkara] the Lokayatikas, who see the Self in the body only, are of opinion that a Self separate from the body does not exist; assume that consciousness, although not observed in earth and other external elements—either single or combined—may yet appear in them when transformed into the shape of a body, so that consciousness springs from them; and thus maintain that knowledge is analogous to intoxicating quality (which arises when certain materials are mixed in certain proportions), and that man is only a body qualified by consciousness. There is thus, according to them, no Self separate from the body and capable of going to the heavenly world or obtaining release, through which consciousness is in the body; but the body alone is what is conscious, is the Self. For this assertion they allege the reason, 'On account of its existence where a body is'. For wherever something exists if some other thing exists, and does not exist if that other thing does not exist, we determine the former thing to be a quality of the latter; light and heat, e.g., we determine to be qualities of fire. And as life, movement, consciousness. remembrance and so on—which by the upholders of an independent Self are considered qualities of that Self—are observed only within bodies and not outside bodies, and as an abode of these qualities different from the body cannot be proved, it follows that they must be qualities of the body only; The Self, therefore, is not different from the body. [2]

The author of the Brahma‑sutra designed two aphorisms specially to represent and refute this philosophy. In the Buddhist Pitakas, we come across not only the name Lokayata but also distinct references to the view that identified the body with the Self. Along with the Samkhya and Yoga. the Arthasastra (c. 4th century B.C.) mentioned the Lokayata. The Mahabharata and the earliest Jaina sources, too, mentioned this philosophy and even the Upanisads were not silent about materialism, Judging from all these, we can easily see that the materialist tradition in India is very old—probably as old as Indian philosophy itself. Under these circumstances, we do not expect our ancient materialists to have gained a positive knowledge of the brain and understood consciousness as its function. Nevertheless, extremely meagre though their scientific data were, the way in which they tried to explain consciousness in terms of their own observations was really remarkable. 'The Lokayatikas', said Samkara, 'do not admit the existence of anything but the four elements.' [3] By themselves the elements did not possess consciousness, still consciousness was viewed as emerging from them. How could that be possible? Just as rice, argued the Lokayatikas, and the other ingredients of producing wine did not by themselves possess any intoxicating quality, yet, when combined in a particular way, these caused the intoxicating quality to emerge, so did the material elements constituting the material human body, though. themselves without consciousness, caused consciousness to emerge when combined in a particular way to form the human body. It was surely one of the most significant things said by our ancients to establish the primacy of matter over the spirit.

But what are the sources of our information of this materialistic philosophy? Unfortunately, only the writings of those who sought to refute and ridicule it. In other words, the Lokayata, is preserved for us only in the form of the purvapaksa, i.e. as represented by its opponents. Not that there never existed any actual treatise of this system. Tucci, Garbe and Dasgupta cite conclusive evidences to show that actual Lokayata texts were known in the ancient and early medieval times. But such texts are lost to us. As against this, Sukhlalji and Parikh have roused some hopes in the recent years with the claim to have discovered at long last an actual Lokayata text called the Tattvopaplava-simha by a certain Jayarasi Bhatta, which, as edited by them, was published in 1940. But a critical examination of the actual contents of the text can only cause disappointment. The title literally means, 'The lion that throws overboard all categories'. It was so chosen because the main purpose of the work was to show the impossibility of any valid knowledge (pramana) and hence the impossibility of any view of reality. In short, it represented the standpoint of extreme scepticism according to which no category—either epistemological or ontological—was possible. Naturally enough, the view expounded by Jayarasi was called Tattvopaplava‑vada, i.e. the doctrine that threw overboard all categories (tattva). He never called it the materialistic view for the very simple reason that it was not that, nor was his view referred to by any other text as the view of a materialist. As we shall presently see, the references to this view had invariably been references to the tattvopaplava‑vada. Therefore, in order to identify Jayarasi's real philosophical affiliation, we may ask ourselves a simple question: Who, in Indian philosophy, are definitely known to have upheld such a position? As we have already seen, only the extreme idealists like the Sunya‑vadins and Advaita Vedantins did consistently argue that all the normal sources of knowledge were invalid. That was why Nagarjuna chose the title Pramana‑vidhvamsana or 'Destruction of the sources of valid knowledge' for one of his works and Samkara argued that all pramana‑prameya‑vyavahara or use concerning the sources of valid knowledge and objects of valid knowledge was based on ignorance or avidya. It was left for the followers of Samkara like Sriharsa and Citsukha to give a scholastic exposition of the consequences of this standpoint. Sriharsa called his philosophical work Khandana‑khandakhadya, literally, 'the sweetmeat of refutations', because he wanted to establish the Vedantic view by refuting all sources of valid knowledge and his follower Citsukha offered highly scholastic arguments in support of such a position.

We have already seen why Indian idealists from the age of the Upanisads felt the necessity of denying validity to the normal sources of knowledge. But how could all this have anything to do with the Lokayatikas, whom we are obliged to accept as uncompromising materialists? In fact, the whole of the older and authentic Indian philosophical tradition is quite outspoken on this point. In other words, if Jayarasi Bhatta had any real philosophical affiliation, it was with the extreme idealists; [4] and it was only by the Lokayatikas, that this idealistic position, along with all its superstitious concomitants, was totally rejected in Indian philosophy in favour of its consistent philosophical alternative, viz. materialism. From this point of view, the Jaina writers like Vidyananda were fully justified in, bracketing the three philosophical positions, viz. of Sunya‑vada, Tattvopaplava‑vada and Brahma‑vada. As a matter of fact, the editors of Jayarasi's work in their introduction, quote a passage from Vidyananda where this was actually done. They also quote many other references to Jayarasi's views mainly from the Jaina sources and the significant point is that in all these the view was referred to as Tattvopaplava‑vada and never as a materialistic doctrine. On the other hand, two positive tenets were persistently attributed to the Lokayatikas in the older and authentic Indian philosophical literature. These were (1) the primacy of sense perception as the source of valid knowledge and (2) the ultimate reality being just the four well‑known material elements. Jayarasi, on the contrary, attempted to refute both these, the former explicitly and the latter implicitly. In fact if Jayarasi referred pointedly to any ontological view as being logically untenable, it was the doctrine of the four elements. As he said in the very beginning of his text, 'Even the categories like earth, etc., which are so well‑known to the people, do not stand logical scrutiny; what to say of the other categories?'.

How, in the face of all these, does a scholar like Sukhlalji associate his name with the thesis that the Tattvopaplava‑simha was written from the Lokayata point of view? The only substantial argument put forward is that Jayarasi 'carries to its logical end the sceptical tendency of the Carvaka school'. Thus the assumption is that a sceptical tendency was inherent in the Lokayata standpoint. But what is the ground for such an assertion? The editors of the text have presumably in mind the representation of the Lokayata view by its opponents, the most popular of which was the one by the Vedantist Madhavacarya (A.D. 14th century) Madhava attributed to the Lokayatikas an argument against the validity of inference: inference depends upon the validity of the vyapti or the universal relation between the sadhya and the linga; but the knowledge of such a universal relation is impossible; it could not be obtained from any source of valid knowledge—not from perception, because its scope is limited to the particular instances only; not from inference, because it is itself dependant upon a vyapti. If this was really the position of the Lokayatikas, then there is of course some justification in assuming a sceptical tendency inherent in their outlook. But the question is, did the Lokayatikas really argue like this? The answer is presumably in the negative, in spite of the fact that the refutation of the Lokayata that we come across in various sources was to a large extent directed against their claim of the primacy of sense perception and their criticism of inference as a source of valid knowledge. We shall presently see what this criticism could have really meant. For the present, let us raise another question: Is substantially the same argument against the validity of vyapti definitely expounded in Indian philosophy from the point of view of some other philosophical system? The answer is in the affirmative. For it was expounded by Sriharsa in his ‘Sweetmeat of Refutation', i.e., from the standpoint of the Advaita Vedanta. This point is too easily overlooked by most of the modern writers on Indian philosophy, who uncritically attribute to the Lokayatikas the doctrine of a total rejection of the validity of inference. On the other hand, there are at least two distinct grounds to think that the Lokayatikas did not actually stand for such a total denial of inference.

Dasgupta [5] salvages for us a valuable piece of information concerning the real attitude of the Lokayatikas to the inferential process. Its special importance consists in the circumstance that here the Lokayata standpoint was explained by one who was himself a Lokayatika. His name was Purandara. Tucci [6] quotes a text in which he was described as Carvaka‑Mate granthakarta, i.e., a writer with the Carvaka views. Dasgupta substantiates the point and argues that he belonged to the 7th century A.D. His attitude to inference, as summed up by Dasgupta, was as follows: Purandara . . . admits the usefulness of inference in determining the nature of all worldly things where perceptual experience is available; but inference cannot be employed for establishing any dogma regarding the transcendental world, or life after death or the law of karma which cannot be available to ordinary perceptual experience.' On the basis of the comments of the Jaina author Vadideva Suri, Dasgupta explains Purandara's point thus:

The main reason for upholding such a distinction between the validity of inference in our practical life of ordinary experience, and in ascertaining transcending truths beyond experience, lies in this, that an inductive generalisation is made by observing a large number of cases of agreement in presence together with agreement in absence, and no case of agreement in presence can be observed in the transcendent sphere; for even if such spheres existed they could not be perceived by the senses. Thus, since in the supposed supra‑sensuous transcendent world no case of a hetu agreeing with the presence of its sadhya can be observed, no inductive generalisation or law of concomitance can be made relating to this sphere.

This was certainly quite a sensible position and that this could have been the real position of the Lokayatikas was further hinted at by Jayanta Bhatta. Jayanta said that the more sophisticated ones among the Carvakas maintained that there were two types of inferences, one called utpanna‑pratiti and the other called utpadya‑pratiti. The former meant inference about something the knowledge of which already existed and the latter meant inference about something the knowledge of which did not exist. The inference of God, etc., was an inference of the second type. Who, as Jayanta made the Carvakas exclaim, would deny the validity of the inference of the fire, etc.? But the reasoning mind could not agree to the inference concerning the Soul, God, the Next World, etc. [7]

This was substantially the position that Purandara defended. And if this was the position of the Lokayatikas, then the skeptical tendency so glibly attributed to them must have been unfounded. Referring to the above statement of Jayanta Bhatta, Hiriyanna comments, 'Thus it is commonly assumed by the critics that the  Carvakas denounced reasoning totally as a pramana, but to judge from the reference to it in one Nyaya treatise, they seem to have rejected only such reasoning as was ordinarily thought sufficient by others for establishing the existence of God, of a future life, etc. Such a discrimination in using reason alters the whole com plexion of the Carvaka view. But this is only a stray hint we get about the truth. What we generally have is a caricature.' [8] Unfortunately, however, most of the modern scholars, being themselves deeply out of sympathy with materialism as a philosophy, are satisfied with such caricatures and do not make any serious effort to reconstruct the lost tradition of ancient Indian materialism. Here is an example.

We have just seen that Jayanta spoke of the 'more sophisticated one's (among the Carvakas). His actual word for this is susiksitatarah. Elsewhere [9] he added to the name Carvaka an abusive epithet dhurta, meaning 'the cunning'. Now on the basis of these sarcastic and abusive epithets used by Jayanta our modern scholars have conjured up two schools of Carvaka, one called Dhurta, the other Susiksita, and we are told that the first did not believe in the validity of inference while the second did. In spite of the wide popularity of this classification of the Carvakas, we do not come across any other basis for it in Indian philosophical literature. That Jayanta's own statements cannot really substantiate it is obvious from the circumstance that he uses the word susiksitatarah and not simply susiksita. Besides, it was obviously a matter of literary style with Jayanta as is evident from his similar use of sarcastic adjectives with regard to the other systems of philosophy. Thus, e.g., he uses the same word susiksita at one place for the Prabhakaras, [10] at another place for the Bhattass; [11] and, nowhere is it taken to mean any separate school. With the Carvakas, however, it is different because our modern scholars are basically out of sympathy with them.

The same lack of seriousness characterises the usual attitude of the modern scholars to the ethical views of the Carvakas, which they are pleased to call hedonism pure and simple. For this is how the opponents of materialism are usually inclined to view the materialistic morals. 'By the word materialism,' says Engels, 'the philistine understands gluttony,  drunkenness, lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh, arrogance, cupidity, avarice, miserliness, profit‑hunting and stock‑exchange swindling—in short all the filthy vices in which he himself indulges in private.' [12] A somewhat similar ethical outlook is usually attributed to the Lokayatikas. But there are many evidences to show that this was not so. We may quote here only one. It occurs in the Santiparva of the Mahabharata.

After the great Kuruksetra war, when the Pandava brothers were returning triumphantly, thousands of Brahmins gathered in the city‑gate to bestow blessings on Yudhisthira. Among them was Carvaka. He moved. forward and addressed the king thus; 'This assembly of the Brahmins is cursing you for you have killed your kins. What have you gained by destroying your own people and murdering your own elders? This outburst of  Carvaka, abrupt as it was, stunned the assembled Brahmins. Yudhisthira felt mortally wounded and wanted to die. But then the other Brahmins regained their senses and told the king that this Carvaka, was only a demon in disguise. And then they burnt him, the dissenting Carvaka, to ashes.

Carvaka, being only a demon in disguise was of course the typical myth with which people were sought to be scared of the materialistic philosophy. But the point is that in this Mahabharata passage, the philosopher said nothing that could even remotely suggest any ethics of blind selfish pleasure. For the dark deeds of which Yudhisthira was accused were that of killing the kins and murdering the elders. In the Kuruksetra war, it was just this that had happened. Kins had to be killed. The old moral values of the tribal society were being trampled upon and destroyed. Carvaka's protest against this was outspoken and courageous. But he was burnt to ashes and the moral standards had to be revised and restated to suit the new situation. This was done in the Gita. On the eve of the Kuruksetra war, Arjuna felt depressed. He would not kill his kins and destroy the elders. He would not fight. So Krsna had to elevate his mind to the lofty metaphysical height where death did not matter. But before doing so, he had to dwell on the more matter‑of‑fact and mundane considerations. He argued, 'You will attain heaven if you are killed in this battle, and, if you win it, you will enjoy this earth.' This was quite outspoken. There was prospect of pleasure in either alternative—a real philosophy of pleasure. Could it, therefore, be that those who were accusing the Lokayatikas of a gross philosophy of pleasure were them selves subscribing to it though surreptitiously?

Discarding, therefore, the commonplace view that our materialists were plain hedonists, we may concentrate on their serious contribution to Indian ethics. From the ethical and practical point of view the most significant contribution of our materialists appears to be their revolt against the doctrine of karma, which had in fact been—and is—the pivot of Indian reaction.  It is indeed difficult to exaggerate the role played by the doctrine of karma both in and outside our philosophical circles. 'All rise of metaphysical speculation on the part of the Indian systems of philosophy—and more particularly the nourishment and development of this speculation—has been due to a belief in the doctrine of karma and a desire to get rid of the transmigrating circle and thus attain transcendental release.' [13] Even pronounced atheists like the Buddhists and the Jainas laid supreme stress on this doctrine: in fact, in their philosophy karma became so important that it made God superfluous. Others that did not discard God did in no way minimise the role of karma: the divine dispensation, according to them, was not arbitrary but expressed itself through the karma‑law. But this doctrine had been more than a mere matter for academic discussions. Made to percolate for centuries among the masses through such methods of popularisation as the village recitals of the epics, mythologies and various other types of popular works on religion, it did acquire a living grip on the minds of our millions.

The essence of the doctrine is of course simple. Every human action has its own inevitable result. A virtuous action results in something good, a vicious action in something bad. Therefore, whatever you enjoy or suffer now is the result of your own past actions and the way you are now acting is going to determine your future. Such a doctrine had inevitably to lean on the conception of a transmigratory soul. For it has to explain why the virtuous man is frequently found to suffer a life of miserable existence and the vicious to prosper. Reinforced by the idea of rebirth and the Other World, the doctrine claims that the virtuous action, though it may not bring prosperity in this life, is sure to do so in some future life while the prosperity of a person who is now vicious must be the result of some good actions of his past life, just as his present vices, though not punished right now, will surely make him miserable in some future life. One obvious implication of this doctrine, therefore is that our own past looms over us like a dark unalterable force. As Radhakrishnan puts it, 'whatever happens to us in this life we have to submit in meek resignation, for it is the result of our past doings.' [14] Its other implication is to offer some kind of justification for the observed diversity of human conditions. As Hiriyanna explains, 'its value as a' hypothesis for rationally explaining the observed inequities of life is clear.' [15] It is, thus, easy to understand why, beginning from the times of the Upanisads, this karma‑doctrine was harnessed to justify the caste system. 'Accordingly', said the Chandogya Upanisad, 'those who are of pleasant, conduct here, the prospect is indeed that they would attain a pleasant womb—either the womb of a Brahmin or the womb of a Ksatriya or the womb of a Vaisya. But those who are of stinking conduct here, the prospect is indeed that they would enter a stinking womb—either the womb of a dog or the womb of a swine, or the womb of a Candala'. [16] In the Gita, again, God Himself was made to declare that He created the four castes according to the same law of karma: 'the four‑caste division has been created by Me according to the division of virtue and action (guna‑karma‑vibhagasah)'. [17]

In the general context of this traditional understanding of the law of karma, it is not of little significance to note that our materialists were by far the only philosophers to have vigorously rejected it. We have already seen how the svabhava‑vada or the doctrine of natural causation was persistently attributed to them and the Jaina writer Gunaratna [18] rightly saw in this the denial of the law of karma: anye punarahuh, mulatah karmaiva nasti, svabhava‑siddhah sarvo'pyayam jagat‑prapanca iti, i.e., according to some there is no such thing called karma at all; all the manifold world is to be explained by natural causes. Indeed, rejecting as they did the conception of a transmigrating Soul it was only logical for our materialists to have rejected the law of karma.

One of the earliest Indian materialists was Ajita Kesakambali, possibly a contemporary of the Buddha. An early Buddhist source summed up his view thus:

There is no such thing, O king, as alms or sacrifice or offering. There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds. . . . A human being is built up of the four elements. When he dies the earthly in him returns and relapses to the earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the wind to the air, and his faculties pass into space. The four bearers, on the bier as a fifth, take his dead body away; till they reach the burning-ground men utter forth eulogies, but there his bones are bleached, and his offerings end in ashes. It is a doctrine of fools, this talk of gifts. It is an empty lie, mere idle talk, when men say there is profit therein. Fools and wise alike, on the dissolution of the body, are cut off, annihilated, and after death they are not. [19]

Another materialist of roughly the same period was Payasi, described as a prince by both the early Buddhist, and Jaina sources. The Buddhist dialogue Payasi‑suttanta and the Jaina work Rayapasenaijja were devoted to the refutation of his views and to the description of his eventual conversion to Buddhism and Jainism respectively. The former summed up his views thus: 'Neither is there any other world, nor are there beings reborn otherwise than from parents, nor is there fruit or result of deed well‑done or ill‑done.' The special interest of these Buddhist and Jaina works is that they preserve for us a series of arguments supposed to have been offered by Payasi in defence of this position. These give us some idea of how a philosopher of those early days, with understandably inadequate scientific data at his disposal, would have rejected the idea of the other world, rebirth and karma. We quote from the Payasi‑suttanta:

I have had friends, companions, relatives, men of the same blood as myself, who have taken life, committed thefts, or fornication, have uttered lying, slanderous, abusive gossipy speech, have been covetous, of malign thoughts, of evil opinions. They anon have fallen ill of mortal suffering and disease. When I had understood that they would not recover from that illness, I have gone to them and said: 'According to the views and opinion held, sirs, by certain wanderers and Brahmins, they who break the precepts of morality, when the body breaks up after death, are reborn into the Waste, the Woeful Way, the Fallen Place, the Pit. Now you, sirs, have broken those precepts. If what those reverend wanderers and Brahmins say is true, this, sirs, will be your fate. If these things should befall you, sirs, come to mob and tell me, saying. "There is another world, there is rebirth not of parents, there is fruit and result of deeds well‑done and ill‑done." You, sirs, are for me trustworthy and reliable, and what you say you have seen, will be even so, just as if I myself had seen it.' They have consented to do. this, saying,. ‘Very good,' but they have neither come themselves, nor dispatched a messenger. Now this . . . is evidence for me that there is neither another world, nor rebirth not by human parents, nor fruit or results of deeds well done and ill.

Similarly, went on Payasi, he had friends and kinsmen. who lived a perfectly virtuous life and were therefore, on the assumption of the karma‑doctrine, supposed to be reborn 'into the bright and happy world’; they agreed to report to Payasi if they were actually so reborn; but none after death made any such report which, for Payasi was another proof that there was no other world, rebirth or karma.

Payasi's next argument had a refreshing sarcasm about it. It urged upon the supporters of the karma‑doctrine to put into practice the precepts they professed:

I see wanderers and Brahmins of moral and virtuous dispositions, fond of life, averse from dying, fond of happiness, shrinking from sorrow. Then I think: 'If these good wanderers and Brahmins were to know this—"When once we are dead we shall be better off"—then these good men would take poison, or stab themselves, or put an end to themselves by hanging, or throw themselves from precipices. And it, is because they do not know that, once dead, they will be better off, that they are fond of life, averse from dying, fond of happiness, disinclined for sorrow.' This is for me evidence that there is no other world, no beings reborn otherwise than of parents, no fruit and no result of deeds well and ill‑done.

Evidently, our ancient materialists were fond of sarcasm on the same or similar lines. For they easily remind us of the verses attributed to the Carvakas in the Sarva‑darsana‑samgraha:

If the sraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead,
Then here, too, in the case of travellers when they start, it is needless to give provisions for the journey.
If beings in heaven are gratified by our offering the sraddha here,
Then why not give the food down below to those who are standing on the housetop?

Verses like this were in circulation from a considerable past. In the Ramayana, a certain Jabali tried to persuade Rama to give up the foolish ideas concerning the karma‑doctrine with similar verses:

And the food by one partaken, can it nourish other men?
Food bestowed upon a Brahmin, can it serve our Fathers then?
Crafty priests have forged these maxims, and with selfish objects say,
'Make thy gifts and do thy penance, leave thy worldly wealth, and pray!’

But let us return to Payasi. In the Dialogue under discussion he offered four more arguments which, notwithstanding the crude methods of punishment then prevalent, cannot but impress us with their insistence on experimental verification.

Take the case of men who having taken a felon red‑handed bring him up, saying: 'This felon, my lord, was caught in the act. Inflict on him what penalty you wish.' And I should say: 'Well then, my masters, throw this man alive into a jar; close the mouth of it and cover it over with wet leather, put over that a thick cement of moist clay, put it onto a furnace and kindle a fire.' They, saying 'Very good', would obey me and . . . kindle a fire. When we knew that the man was dead, we should take down the jar, unbind and open the mouth, and quickly observe it, with the idea: 'Perhaps we may see his soul coming out!' We don't see the soul of him coming out! This is for me evidence that there neither is another world, nor rebirth other than by parentage, nor fruit or result of deeds well or ill‑done.

Similar experiments were proposed by the prince for a felon caught in the act and was therefore going to be executed:

And I say: 'Well then, my masters, take this man and weigh him alive, then strangle him with a bowstring and weigh him again.' And they do so. While he lives, he is more buoyant, supple, wieldy. When he is dead, 'he is weightier, stiffer, unwieldier. This is evidence for me that there is neither another world, nor rebirth other than by human parentage, nor fruit nor result of deeds well‑done or ill‑done.


Take the case of the men taking a felon red‑handed and bringing him up saying: 'My lord, this felon was caught in the act. Inflict on him what penalty you wish.' And I say: 'Well, my masters, kill this man by stripping off cuticle and skin and flesh and sinews and bones and marrow! They do so. And when he is half dead, I say: ‘Lay him on his back, and perhaps we may see the soul of him pass out.' And they do so, but we see the passing of no soul. Then I say: 'Well then, lay him bent over . . . on his side . . . on the other side . . . stand him up . . . stand him on his head . . . smite him with your hand . . . with clods. . . on this side . . . on that side . . . all over; perhaps we may see the soul of him pass out.' And they do so, but we see the passing of no soul. He has sight and there are forms, but the organ does not perceive them; he has hearing and there are sounds, but the organ does not perceive them; he has smell and there are odours, but the organ does not perceive  them; he has a tongue and there are tastes, but the organ does not perceive them; he has a body and there are tangibles, but the organ does not perceive them. This is for me evidence that there is neither another world, nor rebirth other than of parents; nor fruit or result of deeds well or ill‑done.

All these give us some idea of how our ancient materialists argued their case. A modern materialist would not of course take resort to such crude demonstrations in support of his thesis. He has an immeasurably vast stock of scientific data to substantiate his materialistic outlook, i.e., his materialism has become immeasurably richer by the accumulation of knowledge from the progress of science. What is still of decisive significance about our early materialists is that they—in their own way and in spite of inadequate scientific data—succeeded in defending those elemental truths which were sought to be obscured by the increasing prestige of spiritualism and idealism.

Winternitz once observed that 'it proved fatal for the development of Indian philosophy that the Upanisads should have been pronounced to be revelations.' [20] This is true particularly in the sense that it meant a divine sanction for the world‑denying idealistic outlook, and as such this became the most serious obstacle to the development of the scientific spirit in Indian philosophy. No less fatal, however, had been the loss of our materialistic texts. This has deprived us of a proper idea of our heritage of scientific thinking and has in consequence given idealism and spiritualism exaggerated importance in Indian philosophy.

It is, therefore, important for us today to recover the relics of the Lokayata and, on the basis of a careful examination of these, to reconstruct the half‑forgotten and half‑distorted history of Indian materialism. From what is said above, however, it follows that there is an obvious risk in undertaking this task with a pronounced bias against materialism as such. For whatever that survives of the Lokayata survives in the form of the purvapaksa —i.e., for being ridiculed and rejected. Under this circumstance, any preconceived bias against materialism may easily mislead one to take the caricature of the Lokayata at its face value. As a matter of fact, this has actually happened in the case of most of the modern writers on Indian philosophy, notwithstanding the great wealth of their textual scholarship.

Fortunately, with the growing strength of the popular movement in the country, we are witnessing today a growing prestige of the materialistic philosophy itself. This is no accident, at least not so from the point of view of the Indian tradition. For in Indian philosophy Lokayata meant not merely the materialistic philosophy but also—and distinctly enough—the philosophy of the people. Lokesu ayatah, lokayata: it was called Lokayata because it was prevalent among the people. Therefore, however much one may inflate the academic myth concerning Indian spiritualism and Indian idealism, the Indian people remain the inheritors and the custodians of Indian materialism. It is also for them to enrich it with the ever‑growing wealth of scientific knowledge. We have thus to reassert the elemental truth of our ancient materialism, though of course on an immeasurably higher level.


1  Thomson, G. Studies in Ancient Greek Society. ii, 302. [—> main text]

Sariraka‑bhasya on the Brahma‑sutra. iii.3.53. Tr. Thibaut. [—> main text]

Ib. iii.3.54. [—> main text]

4  K. K. Dixit, (Indian Studies: Past & Present. iv, 98ff) rightly insists that for the purpose of determining the real ideological affiliation of Jayarasi Bhatta the following internal evidences of the Tattvopaplava‑simha must be taken note of. For in the text itself, Jayarasi uses the phrase tattvopaplava twice from which we can judge the essence of his tattvopaplava-vada. The first occurrence is where Jayarasi is saying to an adversary that if the latter adopts a particular position there arises the contingency of everything being unreal and from it follows tattvopaplava: . . . sarvasya mithyatvam apadyate tatah tattvopaplavah syat (p. 9). The second occurrence is where he is in effect saying to the same adversary (though in another connection) that if our knowledge of existence is no guarantee of actual existence and if our knowledge of absence no guarantee of actual absence we would be plunged in uncertainty about everything whatsoever and that would mean tattvopapalva: . . . yadi ca bhava jnanam bhavavyavastham na karoti tada sarvabhavesu  anasvasaprasangah.  tatprasaktau abhavasyapy anavasthiti, tad anavasthitau ca tattvopaplavah (p. 14). So according to Jayarasi the doctrine of tattvopaplava should at least mean the doctrine that everything is unreal and that we have no certain knowledge about anything whatsoever. These evidences are clear and decisive and it remains for as to raise a simple question: who in Indian philosophy wanted to prove that everything was unreal and that knowledge was an impossibility? There is only one answer to this question: none but the extreme idealists like the Madhyamika Buddhists and the Advaita Vedantists maintained both these views. If, therefore, Jayarasi had any philosophical affiliation, it was only with the extreme idealists. As a matter of fact, the Jaina logician Vidyanandin showed a clear understanding of this philosophical affiliation of Jayarasi Bhatta; he bracketed the positions of the Tattvopaplavavadins, Sunyavadins and Brahmavadins and said: sarvatha sunyavadinastattvopaplavavadino brahmavadino va jagradupalabhdharthakayayam kim na vadhakapratyayah (Quoted by the editors in the Intro. of the Tattvopaplava‑simha).

This means that according to Vidyanandin there wore three schools in Indian philosophy—namely, those of the Sunyavadins, Tattvopaplavavadins and Brahmavadins, which maintained that there was some form of experience which negated the normal waking experience. We have already seen (p. 62) why the Indian idealists argued in favour of its possibility: such an experience could be the conclusive ground for providing the unreality of the world. If, as Jayarasi himself said, a major implication of his tattvopaplavavada was the unreality of the world, it could only be logical for the Tattvopaplavavadins to have argued in favour of such an experience. Therefore, Vidyanandin's comment could not have been drawn from his own imagination and it conclusively proves the idealistic affiliation of Jayaras Bhatta.

Therefore, it is quite amazing to note that even a responsible scholar like A. L. Basham makes the following statement: 'Besides numerous quotations attributed to materialists in religious and philosophical works one materialist philosophical text has survived. This is the Tattvopaplava-simha. (The Wonder That Was India 297) On the contrary the fact is that the text opens with Jayarasi’s rejection of the materialistic thesis that everything is made up of four physical elements and its editors themselves never went to the ridiculous extent of claiming it to be a materialist philosophical text. Their contention rather is that the text represents the view of one branch of the Carvaka school which deviated from the 'orthodox' materialism of the Carvakas and developed the tattvopaplava‑vada. As against such a claim again we may mention another interesting internal evidence of the text itself. Towards its end, Jayarasi claims to have exposed certain deep‑rooted aberrations of the intellect which even Brhaspati (suraguru) failed to expose. Now it is impossible to deny the fact that according to the Indian philosophical tradition Brhaspati is somehow or other conceived to be the founder of the Carvaka philosophy.  It is equally impossible to deny that according to the Indian philosophical tradition, no real representative of a system would ever dream of boasting intellectual superiority to the founder of the system itself. Jayarasi, who claims to be superior to Brhaspati, could thus hardly be a follower of Brhaspati himself, i.e. could hardly be the leader of any imaginary offshoot of the Carvaka or Barhaspatya system. It is moreover necessary to remember that Jayarasi claims as his final achievement the annihilation of the vanity of the pasandin's (p. 125). Now, whatever might have been the exact meaning of the word pasandin, it could by no stretch of imagination have excluded the Lokayatikas or Carvakas. [—> main text]

5  Dasgupta, S. N. A History of Indian Philosophy. iii, 536f. [—> main text]

6  Tucci, G. in the Proceedings of the Indian Philosophical Congress, 1925. 36. [—> main text]

7  Nyayamanjari. i.113. [—> main text]

8  Hiriyanna, M. Outlines of Indian Philosophy. 188. [—> main text]

Nyayamanjari. i.59. [—> main text]

10  Ib. i, 161. [—> main text]

11  Ib. i, 273. [—> main text]

12  Marx, K. and Engels, F. Selected Works, i.375. [—> main text]

13  Sanghavi, Suklalji. Advanced Studies in Indian Logic and Metaphysics. Calcutta, 1961. 116. [—> main text]

14  Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy,  i, 249. [—> main text]

15  Hiriyanna, M. op. cit. 79. [—> main text]

16  Chandogya Upanisad. v.10.7. [—> main text]

17  Gita, iv 13. [—> main text]

18  Tarka‑rahasya‑dipika on Sad‑darsana‑samuccaya, verse 50. [—> main text]

19  Rhys‑Davids, T. W. Dialogues of the Buddha, vol. i. London, 1899. 73. [—> main text]

20  Winternitz, M. A History of Indian Literature. i, 265. [—> main text]

SOURCE: Chattopadhyaya, Debiprasad. Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction (Delhi: People's Publishing House, 1972 [orig. 1964]), chapter 28, pp. 184-199; notes, pp. 221-223.

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